Favorite Reads of 2011: The Notebooks of Malte Laudris Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

I think out of everything I read in 2011, The Notebooks of Malte Laudris Brigge would have to be my single most favorite thing. I could tell that I was in for an exceptional experience when certain trusted reader friends of mine, seeing that I had picked up the book at San Francisco Public’s annual huge book sale, spoke of the book in the kind of reverential tones that are only elicited by books of the highest quality. The book is composed of what I suppose you would call “entries” in Brigge’s notebooks, but there’s really very little here that would make this book feel like a journal-as-novel. The thing about the book, however, is that despite any sort of organizing conceit, it really does feel very unified around—something . . . divining that center is part of the task. I really don’t know what this book is about, or even how it works; all I feel I can say after a first reading is simply that it radiates meaning as only the best books I read each year do and that there are literally scores of quotes that I underlined on even a first read . . .

“I don’t think there is such a thing as fulfillment, but there are wishes that endure, that last a whole lifetime, so that anyhow one couldn’t wait for their fulfillment.”

“. . . she could read for hours, she seldom turned a page, and I had the impression that the pages kept growing fuller beneath her gaze, as if she looked words onto them . . .”

“I, who even as a child had been distrustful of music (not because it lifted me out of myself more powerfully than anything else, but because I had noticed that it never put me back where it had found me, but lower down, somewhere deep in the uncompleted) . . .”

“. . . she immediately began to die, slowly and hopelessly, over the whole surface of her body.”

“I lay there, overloaded with myself, and waited for the moment when I would be told to pile all this back into myself, neatly and in the right order.”

“As if I hadn’t known that all our insights are added on later, that they are balance-sheets, nothing more. Right afterward a new page begins, with a completely different account, and no total carried forward.”

. . .

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Scott–I simply adore this book. I’m so glad you chose to highlight it here; it’s something that I wish more people would read.

I’m curious: did you read the Stephen Mitchell translation? (This is what is linked to here.) I did, too, and I love Mitchell’s Rilke (the poems, too, of course). But I find myself wondering if either Burton Pike’s or Michael Hulse’s translations are worth checking out, too. After reading William Gass’s book on Rilke and translation, I found myself questioning whether I should love Mitchell’s versions of the poems as much as I do. I went out and read around among a bunch of different translations (including, of course, the ones Gass provides in his book, which are quite interesting)–particularly of The Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. However, I found myself ALWAYS returning to Mitchell’s Rilke. Even Edward Snow, who introduced me to the full version of both volunes of New Poems, ends up feeling somehow disappointing to me when I compare his versions to those done by Mitchell (who has only translated selected poems other than Duino and Orpheus).

At any rate, I’m quite curious as to whether you’ve read any other translations of this one, and whether the prose is significantly (or even subtly) different in any important way.

Third try:
Malte Laurids Brigge

Just a personal point of view: as a fluent German speaker who cut his teeth on Rilke, I have to say that the Rilke translations by Mitchell that I have seen strike me as woefully inadequate – they sound flat, normalised, sort of preachy.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


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All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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